- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Washington Mystics have been practicing for only four days, and coach Julie Plank already has a hoarse voice.

It’s the result of her most important task early in training camp: establishing a new mentality within the players, a winning attitude that was absent during last year’s 10-24 campaign.

Plank established early that the Mystics will be a much tougher team this season. They have had six practices since camp began Sunday, and Plank has spent most of that time preaching defensive principles.

“That’s one of the ways we are going to win this year,” guard Alana Beard said. “We want to be known for never being outworked, and Julie started that from the very beginning.”

Washington gets its first live action of the preseason Thursday morning when it visits the New York Liberty - a welcome relief for the players from the two-a-days.

But since the game is so early into training camp, Plank has yet to install her offense fully. That doesn’t mean her expectations are modest; rather, she will be looking for maximum effort from each player.

“I want us to play hard. I want us to get after it at the defensive end and execute, just do all of the things that we have worked on,” Plank said. “Obviously, we haven’t put everything in, so I want to see us do well with what we’ve practiced.”

The Mystics still need to trim their roster from 16 to 11 before the season starts June 6, but cuts are unlikely to happen until after the second and final preseason game May 28. Plank and general manager Angela Taylor have said repeatedly they will be patient while deciding on a final roster.

“We’re not in any big hurry to do that,” Plank said. “We’d like to keep people and see what they can do. Practice is one thing, and games are totally different. So as we put things in and see what roles people can play and put them in those situations in the exhibition game, we’ll evaluate.”

The early days of training camp also have presented an opportunity for members of Washington’s new-look roster to get a feel for one another. Besides a new coaching staff, eight players are in camp who weren’t on the Mystics’ roster last season. And two more - Tasha Humphrey and Shay Murphy - were acquired in a late-season trade last year.

And since each player is on common ground with the new coaching staff, that has provided a basis for bonding.

“It’s been pretty easy,” Beard said. “I think everybody has come in with a good attitude, willing to learn. Everyone is starting from the same position. Just because I’ve been here for five seasons doesn’t mean I know more than anybody else.”

“Intense” is the word the Mystics most commonly use to describe their new coach. She has stopped practices often to point out mistakes and has been meticulous about embedding her style in their play. But her criticisms have been constructive, and she has maintained a positive attitude - even about losing her voice.

“Maybe it’s is a good thing,” she said. “The less I talk, maybe more of them will talk on the floor.”

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